Sometimes those uplifting stories can be a little too “on the nose”.
While this true to life story is and should be an inspiration to many out there from all walks of life, King Richard leans into the beats of an uplifting sports movie pretty hard as this film’s lead is basically stumping hard for an Academy Award nomination.
King Richard follows the journey of Richard Williams, an undeterred father instrumental in raising two of the most extraordinarily gifted athletes of all time, who will end up changing the sport of tennis forever. Driven by a clear vision of their future and using unconventional methods, Richard has a plan that will take Venus and Serena Williams from the streets of Compton, California to the global stage as legendary icons. The profoundly moving film shows the power of family, perseverance and unwavering belief as a means to achieve the impossible and impact the world.
There’s no denying that the film hits all the right notes and is very well executed but King Richard hits us over the head as an audience with every positive ideal about family and personal ambition to the point that it gets a little tiresome. King Richard wears its awards season aspirations on its sleeve and it’s hard to not to notice.
Director Reinaldo Marcus Green is certainly a solid hand as a story teller and knows how to get a script from A to B to C in an efficient and entertaining manner but the problem here is that the script from first time screenwriter Zack Baylin lacks any subtlety and nuance that is required to get us interested in these people as characters and instead has us bogged down in the overwhelming nature of our protagonist.
While we certainly don’t doubt that Richard Williams took up all the air in the room as a character trying to get his daughters Venus and Serena to the top of the tennis world, it occasionally makes for an exhausting experience. It was a hair too long as it explored as much of the eccentric yet effective family character building that the man did as it possibly could without giving us a sense of who the man Richard Williams is. Sure it’s fun and charming and does all the right things that a sports movie should do, but it shows very little edge and just gives us hammy salesman who doesn’t quite know when to shut his pitches off.
Sure the tennis is well shot and we get emotionally involved in the action on the court that the Williams sisters had to go through but just a little too much of this goes through the emotional prism of King Richard himself as the push back from friends, business partners and family tends to fall on deaf ears.
Bless him, Will Smith is trying his hardest here but has Richard Williams stuck between hard and stern yet charming but likeable, keeping us on edge at every turn. His accent might be accurate but it felt distracting as we were never sure to focus on him…or focus on what he was focused on; ‘the plan’ for Venus and Serena.
The anchor really comes in a great performance from the underrated Aunjanue Ellis as Richard’s partner and wife in trying to will their kids to a better life. Whereas Smith brings the high octane salesmanship, Ellis is the glue that keeps the unit of the Williams family together.
It’s the likes of Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal who round out the ensemble with some quite grace and solid moments, but its Smith and Ellis who take the brunt of the load and they do an admirable job with it as the film unfurls on the screen.
Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with King Richard as it’s a solid sports story with a very solid message for not just the youth of the world, but for families and parents who want to do the absolute best by their children. But the weight of the story of Richard Williams and the character on the screen, needed a script with quicker pacing to help some of the more difficult moments in the film roll off without a hitch, rather than landing like a tennis ball that’s been sitting in the rain all day.
This “King” needed a little more focus on the people around him to accentuate the man that he truly is.